by Shayne Thomas
19 Sep 2019
Customer Experience Isn’t a Given, It’s Learned
Why creating a culture of learning and development is the secret for credit unions to surprise and delight their customers at every turn
A lot of people are talking about customer experience these days—and it’s no surprise because the experience that customers have with any brand can be the make or break that either keeps them loyal for life or running in the opposite direction.
Oftentimes, when talking about customer experience, we think first about the external expression of that experience: does a business have an easy-to-use website, is the in-store experience inviting, is a business’s customer care team responsive, do the products purchased or services rendered meet expectations, and so on. What many of us fail to remember—and it’s really not the fault of anyone—is that these incredible customer experiences don’t just happen on their own. The real, living and breathing people behind those experiences are ultimately responsible—and to thank— for bringing them to life.
Unfortunately, customer experience is not something learned in school. Rather, it’s learned through our own experiences of dealing with customers in the real world, whether in-person, over the phone, or even through the many digital channels we use to communicate every day. In many ways, you can think of customer experience as an acquired skill that must constantly be nurtured and refined over time. There’s no one-size-fits-all. How one business defines customer experience can vary tremendously from another.
The customer experience “challenge” for credit unions
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to shine the spotlight specifically on credit unions: a unique niche of the financial services industry that truly requires delivering stellar customer experiences at every turn. After all, customers entrust the safety and security of their money with these financial institutions; a less-than-stellar customer experience could quickly and easily give them a reason to move their money elsewhere.
Credit unions, however, face the unique and somewhat unsettling challenge of high turnover. Why? Because all too often credit union employees, the front-line faces of the customer experience, are only provided with straightforward job training, ensuring their day-to-work adheres to specific compliance measures. They are rarely ever given the tools and resources to interface with customers exceptionally well or even grow in their careers. And the last thing anyone wants is for a potentially lucrative career to ever feel like it's simply a means to an end.
This is just one of the reasons why credit unions, like all other businesses we work with, should implement a strong learning and development program across all branches and, ultimately, embrace a culture of learning. This goes way beyond simply learning job-related skills (i.e. compliance). It’s about giving employees many opportunities to master a wide range of soft skills, from leadership to sales excellence to customer service management, as well as providing core content that reinforces your branch’s key priorities. This is especially important for new hires—as it’s a great way to set performance expectations upfront—but can also provide new learning opportunities and important skills development for senior employees as well, especially as they move up the ranks into highly visible management and leadership positions.
Not only can they leverage those skills to provide a better customer experience, whatever their role may be, but also take advantage of it as a way to grow into their careers. Plus, as a related perk, it’s an easy way for businesses to show their employees that they truly care about their development—and that’s been shown to go a long way for boosting employee loyalty and retention. (After all, who doesn’t like to learn a little something new every now and then?)
But learning and development is only one part of the turnover reduction equation. There are a few other things that credit unions can do immediately to engender employee happiness:
- Continuous feedback: We’ve said this many times before—and here, we’ll say it again: performance should not be a one-a-year conversation. We are the biggest cheerleaders of what we warmly refer to as continuous performance management. What does that mean? First and foremost, it’s all about building a stronger manager-employee interactions and making ongoing feedback a cornerstone of those relationships. While the annual performance review is a great way to assess long-term goals and provide employees with a broad-strokes overview of both their achievements and areas for improvement, it fails to celebrate success or nip bad habits in the bud in real-time. By keeping an open dialogue going year-round, managers will inevitably create a more supportive environment that truly celebrates employee growth and success.
- Career mobility: One of the biggest perks of keeping a continuous manager-employee feedback loop open is to discuss opportunities for career advancement or mobility—within a specific branch or across the entire credit union network. No one really likes to punch in at work only to receive a paycheck—even if they say that it’s their only motivation. As humans, we like to evolve and grow. The same principle applies to the workplace. That’s why it’s important for managers and employees to have ongoing and candid career pathing discussions; it’s a great way to pinpoint future opportunities, build a growth plan with attainable goals, and keep employees engaged in their work. When you paint a clear picture as to what growth looks like, you’d be surprised at how quickly employees will rise to the occasion to impress you!
- Recognition and rewards: When you hear the word “feedback,” it’s easy to see it only in a negative light (i.e. signifying an area for improvement). Unfortunately, for many managers out there, that’s what feedback amounts to—which is yet another reason why teaching soft skills is so important today. But feedback has a positive side: when employees go above and beyond the call of duty, it’s incumbent upon managers and other business leaders to celebrate those successes. This doesn’t mean you have to give someone a promotion or a raise; quite to the contrary, it’s about recognizing achievements and, as a byproduct of that, reinforcing positive habits and desired behaviors. Whether you give an employee a shoutout during a team meeting or award special badges within your talent management system, there are a lot of ways to ensure your employees know their work is valued.
This is just the beginning. There are a lot of things that credit unions can do to reduce turnover, boost employee happiness, and, as a result, create a better overall customer experience. These are just a few ideas that you can implement immediately. If you’re ready to take it a step further, Cornerstone is here to help.
Talk to one of our experts about your Credit Union's unique needs.